Thursday, September 9, 2010

Campaign Promises or Real Reform?

Cross-posted at State Budget Solutions

Bloomberg Business Week reports that Oregon's Democratic candidate for Governor, John Kitzhaber, is promising to get tough on public employee compensation if he is elected. The Republican candidate, Chris Dudley, is pledging to do the same.

Both candidates are insisting that they will renegotiate with public employee unions in order to rein in spiraling, out-of-control costs, and while both are demurring when it comes to details, Dudley has at least put forth a few specifics about concessions he expects from state workers. A lack of specificity at this stage in the election season is troubling, especially so with Kitzhaber as he is fully supported by the public employee unions. How can taxpayers be sure that Kitzhaber won't betray them in order to satisfy his union base when push comes to shove?

Dudley argues that Kitzhaber's rhetoric and proposals display a "timidity" that will inevitably fall short of real reform. Again, due to his relationship with the unions, for constituents to take Kitzhaber seriously he must lay out concrete specifics about concessions he expects unions to make, and how he plans to reform the system in order to ensure its sustainability and longevity. Dudley should also make more concrete proposals, in addition to the ones he has already announced. Though, there seems to be more cushion around Dudley since he is not backed by the very people with whom he will have to negotiate and fight.

The other reason that a Kitzhaber administration does not seem hopeful to those that are working towards real budget reform (including public employee compensation reform) is this last sentence:

Kitzhaber's budget proposals said that over the next decade the state has to emphasize spending that prevents social ills, such as addiction and crime.

Huh? Oregon has a $577 million predicted shortfall in 2011 (though some estimates put the shortfall at over $1 billion!) and Kitzhaber's budget priorities will be spending that prevents social ills?

Look, Oregon voters need to step up to the plate now, before either of these men are elected, and demand some specifics about budget and pension reform. If voters do not get clear answers and pledges now, it will be that much harder to hold these men accountable after the election. Make them read about reality-based budgeting and ask them to pledge to implement it if elected. Force both candidates to pony up real specifics about how they will fight public sector unions, and how they will protect the taxpayer and the private sector. Ask them if they supported the recent tax increases and if they plan on imposing any more tax increases, or do they support reforming the budget and cutting spending?

These are incredibly important questions to ask both candidates, and do not stop until Dudley and Kitzhaber have answered them one way or another. And if these men refuse to answer the voters, well then, that's an answer unto itself.

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